Doulas help bring objective support to women giving birth When Karen Huttenmeyer delivered her first child two years ago, she felt something was missing from the experience.
Numbed from the waist down by an epidural, Huttenmeyer thought the lack of sensation lessened the achievement in delivering a healthy baby girl.
Two years later, and pregnant for a second time, Huttenmeyer, 37, of Phoenix’s Moon Valley neighborhood, decided to do things differently. "I wanted to be more involved."
Opting for natural childbirth, she selected a midwife, her medical support, and a doula, her emotional support. "On a subconscious level, it was nice to know that Greta (Sprenkeling, the doula) would be there," Huttenmeyer said. "My husband is not the best in medical situations."
On March 24, Spencer Huttenmeyer was born at Paradise Valley Hospital in Phoenix weighing 7 pounds, 9 ounces. In attendance was Janice Bovee, the midwife, Brock Huttenmeyer, the father, and Sprenkeling, the doula.
"The birth was better in that I had a sense of accomplishment that was lacking with my first child," Huttenmeyer said. Yes, there was pain. But Sprenkeling helped her through it, applying counterpressure on her lower back, suggesting different labor positions and keeping her focused during contractions.
"I would definitely have a doula again, even if I did have an epidural,"
A Greek word meaning "woman’s servant," doula is a concept as old as childbirth, though relatively new as a certified profession. Today, doulas are trained labor support professionals, certified through Doulas of North America. Services, which are generally not covered by insurance, range from $350 to $600.
According to Suzi Coleman, state representative of the doula organization, there are 50 certified doulas in Arizona. The first in-state training took place in 1996, when Penny Simpkin, the organization’s founder from Seattle, came to Arizona to hold workshops.
Sprenkeling was in that first group trained, and has since been involved in more than 150 births.
"I am there to keep fear and anxiety out of the labor room," Sprenkeling said. "I am there to help fulfill the birth experience. Whatever comes up, I help you through it."
In no way does a doula look to replace medical personnel or a partner in their respective birthing roles, said Donna Hackney, a Chandler doula. But medical providers have their jobs. And partners, often new to the birth experience, welcome a doula to the birthing team. Hackney said it takes at least some of the support responsibility off a partner’s shoulders.
"With my first child, the birth experience was overwhelming," recalled Nichole Vaughn, 28, of Mesa. "It was painful, fast and scary." While her husband was there to hold her hand, he couldn’t offer suggestions on better labor positions.
He couldn’t keep her focused. Vaughn employed a doula to help with subsequent births — and then became one herself. Vaughn has been present at the birth of more than 150 babies. Meeting with clients weeks or months before the due date, Vaughn works with the momto-be in creating a birth plan that can include everything from massage preferences to thoughts on medications.
"I know from firsthand experience that doulas are a great benefit to women," Vaughn said.
While emotional help is the focus, there may also be physical benefits. Some studies have found doula-assisted labors are shorter and Caesarean-section rates are reduced.
Which isn’t to say that Csections don’t happen when a doula is around. Anna Nichols, 31, of Gilbert had planned a water birth at home with doula Hackney and midwife Donna Woodford. But after 13 hours of labor, Nichols was taken to Chandler Regional Hospital, where Jackson David was delivered via C-section on April 16.
"Donna (Hackney) was great," Nichols said, five days after the C-section. Playing music, providing massages and aromatherapy, Hackney served as a calming influence at home and later in the hospital.
"We felt very positive about the whole experience," Nichols said, even though a C-section was the last thing she wanted. And Hackney knew that. But when the time came for a decision to be made, Hackney’s job was to support the laboring mom in her decision.
Medical nurses are also trained in that support, said Polly Hrenchir, manager of labor and delivery at Scottsdale Healthcare Shea hospital, but their first concern has to be the physical well-being of mother and child. Doulas are totally focused on emotional support, Hrenchir said, adding that "some (laboring mothers) need more support than others."
"In my experience working with doulas, they are a big comfort to the mom," said midwife Woodford, a Phoenix resident. "I’m there to make sure mom is doing good and baby is doing good" from a medical standpoint, she said. "Doulas comfort mom and help out with the family."
Ideally, that’s how it should be, agreed Mesa gynecologist Jo Knatz. Her experience with doulas has been as varied as the individuals themselves.
"I’ve had some who just sat in a corner like just their presence there would help," Knatz said. "And then there have been others who act more like a midwife.
"For many men," Knatz said, "it’s really hard for them to see the woman they love in so much pain and know that they had a part in it." A doula who can fill the role of coach in a somewhat detached manner, Knatz said, gives the laboring mother what she needs most.
For more information on doulas, visit www.dona.org.
"Relaxation" and "childbirth" would seem oxymoronic. But Nichole Vaughn knows those concepts aren’t mutually exclusive. A certified childbirth educator and labor doula, Vaughn has a few tricks up her sleeve — or more correctly in her bag — to help women through labor.
Now those items are for sale in Labor of Love Kits ($45) developed by Vaughn and available at, among others, Mother’s Milk, 10816 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, and Baby, Mother & More, 320 E. 10th Drive, Mesa. Visit
"These are things that as a doula I use at every single birth," said Vaughn, a Mesa resident. One better, the items are things that, as a mother of three, she knows help from firsthand experience. Kit items include a massage ball, peppermint foot lotion, visualization cards, vanilla linen spray and lollipops (for dry mouth from all that heave-hoing). Vaughn said the kits have made popular shower gifts.